Seller Records vs. County Records….A Common San Carlos Real Estate Problem

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At first, you may not even notice it. But the examples below show why it is essential to scrutinize all disclosures and also check the county and city records when buying a house in San Carlos. Some sellers will really bend the rules when trying to maximize the purchase price of their house by slyly noting a difference between what is being advertised and what is actually being offered. Here are some examples:

(1) A realtor has a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house for sale in San Carlos.  The MLS and the flyer both indicate the the presence of 3 bedrooms.  Upon viewing the home the prospective buyer identifies the three bedrooms.  The buyer proceeds to write an offer for the house.  The offer is accepted and escrow closes shortly thereafter. At some point in the future, the buyer decides to refinance the house.  During the appraisal process it is discovered that the county records lists the house as only having 2 permitted bedrooms and 2 baths.  It turns out that the 3rd bedroom was not permitted as a bedroom. The buyers did not get the benefit of the bargain.

(2) A realtor lists a house as having 2,000 square feet.  A buyer purchases the home, noting that the MLS page identified the home as having 2,000 square feet so the buyer is confident that the representation is valid. Again, upon an appraisal for a refinance, it is discovered that the county records have the home with 1,700 permitted square feet.  The buyer did not get the benefit of the bargain in this scenario as well.

The above two examples are very common in San Carlos.  San Carlos is the king of the weekend warrior and homes having unpermitted work. So who is to blame for the buyer getting the short end of the stick on the above two examples? It depends on the the full story, but most likely everyone involved shares some of the blame.

In example number one, the seller may have always believed they had 3 permitted bedrooms, since this how they bought the house from the previous seller.  The buyer will say that they relied on the information provided for in the MLS and the literature provided by the realtor. Now, most good realtors would review the county records prior to listing the prospective property because they will want to make sure that they are advertising only what is permitted.  Unfortunately, some realtors will not conduct this search.  Some will not conduct it because they are not obligated to do so.  Others will not conduct it because the sellers are emphatic that the third bedroom is legal, stating that  this is they way they bought the house and it is the way they are going to sell the house.  The buyer is going to face an uphill climb even with the error on the side of the seller.  The disclosures that go along with selling a home in San Carlos are nothing short of extravagant.  I can assure you that listed in those disclosures many, many times, is a warning to the buyer to conduct their own research at the city and county offices prior to removing a property inspection contingency. In the end, the liability associated with this type of problem is not entirely clear.

In example number two, the seller may believe that his square footage is larger than what is being reported on the county records. Believe it or not, calculating square footage is not an exact science.  If you have ten different appraisers measure for square footage, you are going to get ten different answers, although, they should not be separated by more than 5%. When you have a scenario such as the one mentioned in example number 2, above, something is clearly way off.  Here’s a tip which may give you the heads up to do more research on the records of a home:  When looking on the MLS and examining the listed square footage, always look at the listed SOURCE of the square footage.  Most of the time the source will be the county.  However, once in a while the source will be the seller.  This should be a huge red flag that the seller is disagreeing with whatever the county records are saying about the permitted square footage. Anytime you see the seller listed as the source for the square footage, further investigation is needed. Some seller’s are insistent on going with their calculations, rather than the county records. Absent any type of evidence to prove fraud on behalf of the seller, the buyer will most likely left high and dry in this scenario.

You may have recognized that both of the problems above could have been easily solved if the buyers had simply checked the county records prior to initiating the purchase or while under their property inspection contingency period. INSIST that your realtor help you with this issue, especially when buying in San Carlos.  You will save yourself a major headache down the road.

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